I was prepared to love this movie. I was not prepared to love it this much. Perhaps there can be no praise for this film higher than this: I threw my back out laughing. *I swore I wouldn’t, but I have, in fact, kept this review spoiler free. The comments do not need to be as careful. However, in deference to our ongoing Buffy rewatch, I would like to keep this thread Angel spoiler free.*
Much Ado About Nothing is as close to perfect as I can imagine. It’s artistic without being alienating, innovative without trying too hard. It’s comprehensive without being simplistic. It’s approachable and, despite its monochromatic palette, not overly stylized. The cinematography was beautiful and creative without the intrusive ‘look what we can do’ sense. My expectations for a movie have never been higher than they were for Much Ado and it met them in every respect.
The cast, composed almost completely of Whedon favorites, shone. I could make a few complaints: Riki Lindhome (of the hilarious comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates) needs to learn how to speak slower and Jillian Morgese swallowed a couple of her lines, but all in all the cast rose to the occasion in fabulous manner.
Amy Acker was particularly perfect. She was transcendent as the witty Beatrice. Her fall down the stairs was one of the best I’ve ever seen and she very nearly made me cry in her more dramatic scenes. Her chemistry with Alexis Denisof was off the charts. Unfortunately for Denisof, she eclipsed him rather completely in nearly every scene they played together. He was excellent, but Acker couldn’t help outshining him. I left the theater with the firm belief that if Amy Acker doesn’t win an Oscar at some point in her career, a terrible, terrible wrong will have been committed against her. She was better than Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever used the phrase “better than Emma Thompson” before.
Denisof is such a skilled dramatic actor, it’s easy to forget how damn brilliant he is at physical comedy. The scene where he overhears Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato was, to me, the funniest of the film. A close second is the scene when he encounters Beatrice outside and proceeds to show off in a ridiculous manner. It’s Wesley from the first season of Angel. Oh how I’ve missed Angel season one Wesley. Denisof handles the dialogue as well as I expected him to (which is very). I’m sure Whedon was down on his knees nightly thanking all powerful Atheismo (it’s a Futurama reference–don’t hate!) that his actors were familiar with the source material. Thankfully, the ‘does he even know what he’s saying’ problem (also known as Keanu Reeves-itus) does not rear its ugly head once.
Utterly surprising me were Reed Diamond as Don Pedro and Fran Kranz as Claudio. I never doubted that they would both play their roles well, but their characters ended up being so different from their usual fare, I was floored. Diamond, typically playing the sarcastic cop/federal agent/lawyer is unrecognizably...likable. He is kind, he is gentle, and I even felt sorry for him when I was supposed to. Kranz, usually the goofy sidekick, was sweet, lovable, and–for the love of God–when did he get so hot? No, seriously.
Expect to miss a good deal of the dialogue between Dogberry and Verges. I caught about every other line, but the rest was sadly overshadowed by laughter (the rest of the audience’s as well as my own). As expected, Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry puts others’ to shame. Somewhat unexpectedly, Tom Lenk steals a bit of the show from Fillion with his hilarious wannabe Verges. And the sunglasses! How brilliant was it to give them sunglasses? If this film will go down in history for nothing else, let it be noted that it is the first Shakespearean adaptation to make fun of CSI: Miami.
The modern setting just works. It’s presented matter-of-factly and not commented on in the manner one might have expected post-Romeo + Juliet. It’s just there. Leonato learns of Don Pedro’s coming by text, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato listen to music via iPod, and paparazzi follow Don Pedro’s every move. I also have to mention that I love that the cupcakes at the wedding were from Sprinkles. That’s such a random LA-centric touch (yes, I know they’ve expanded elsewhere, but they’re still ours).
A thousand little pieces make me love this movie. Beatrice trying to fend off a would-be lover at the party, Leonato falling asleep in his kitchen while talking to Don Pedro, the fact that the leading men of our piece are being housed in a room clearly intended for two young girls. It’s amazing how much Joss Whedon the director was able to squeeze into a movie in which he wrote zero dialogue.
Everything about this film was sublime, from the casting to the art direction. It felt real, as if you’d been in this house with these people for a week. Bottles and discarded glasses were scattered about recklessly, clothes and hair were disheveled; it really felt like the night after a great party at a close friend’s house.
In what I doubt is a coincidence, that is also what’s happening on a meta level. Joss has invited us into his real life home and introduced us to his real life friends who do, in fact, regularly come over for Shakespeare readings. It’s odd to say about a movie he emphatically did not write, but Much Ado feels like the most personal of all of Joss’s work. It’s intimate. The film almost feels like a reward for us Whedon faithful. The Avengers was a show, put on for all to see. Much Ado About Nothing is an after party, reserved only for those who can appreciate it.
five out of four cupcakes